This is weird. The New York Times wrote up a piece about picture books - the recent trend where kids start with chapter books earlier and seem to forsake new and shiny picture books. It's weird for a few reasons. First is the impression I get from the article that there are experts who think that picture books are good for children's development. Uh... yeah. Then there's the idea that it's a bad thing to have kids reading chapter books at earlier ages. It's mentioned, as if in passing, and is sadly what I take away from an otherwise interesting article. So, a few thoughts.
To begin with, I think it's great that the incredibly high prices of hardcover picture books is mentioned. I remember sometime when I was in second grade and already hooked onto chapter books, there was some picture book that looked really nice. I remember picking it up, flipping through its glossy, lovely pages and then - oh, $20. Um. No. Children's books are gorgeously made, all shine and gloss but the price tag scares off so many kids and parents that just don't see the point. Not in the book, but in owning it. Besides, libraries always wrap them up in that awesomely crunching plastic.
I also find the notion that there's something wrong with declining sales to be most fascinating. The article points to the fact that classics are still bestsellers - books like Dr Seuss, and others of that ilk. Maybe - and I find this more plausible and worthy of separate discussion as I think of it - parents prefer buying their young children the books they themselves know and love from childhood. If I had to buy kids books today with no prior knowledge, I would be wary of new releases mostly because I'm fairly wary of just about everything publishers give me these days. That and the recent fad of having too much message in kids books. Or too little. Or just having lame kids books. But it's been a while, so I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot of great books. Isn't the fact that I'm wary like this, though, an indication of what parents might be thinking? Could low sales just be due to consumers preferring what they already know?
As for kids reading chapter books earlier, I gave up the picture book almost entirely by the end of first grade. Not everyone in my class was like that, but the avid readers among us wanted to move upwards to chapter books as soon as possible because it was more challenging, and more to the point - more suited to what we wanted. "The Magic Tree House" series was perfect because it had everything I could ever imagine - books, history, adventures, knowledge, science, mysteries and more. I learned so much with small books that made me feel like I was swallowing up large tomes, like were always shown in the occasional pictures scattered throughout the books. Reading chapter books was reading independently - reading picture books is to this day associated in my mind with early childhood, learning to read, and bedtime stories.
Picture books aren't going out of fashion and there's absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging kids to read independently at younger ages. I think there's some bad marketing going on, that prices are too high, and that parents are taking it safe. Parents shouldn't push their kids to chapter books before they can actually read, but it's definitely an important step and second grade is exactly the time to make it.